February is Black History Month.
The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to learning about Black history and heritage in Florida and informing our perspectives and practices through the lens of Black stories, experience and insight.
To honor Black History Month, we are sharing a few historic preservation highlights from Black communities around the state, courtesy of our Board Member, Ennis Davis.
We want to tell the full story of Florida’s history, which means we need to listen and learn. We would love to hear your personal stories – please feel free to share your stories anonymously. What does Black History month mean to you?
#1 LaVilla Shotguns
LaVilla shotguns. Photo by Ennis Davis.
Work has begun on the restoration of three historic shotgun houses in Jacksonville's LaVilla neighborhood that have been vacant since the 1990s. Sanborn maps indicate these houses were constructed between 1903 and 1912. They were originally located at 612, 614, and 616 Lee Street, which was a part of McIntosh & Reed’s Addition to LaVilla.
Privately occupied until the City’s River City Renaissance Program, which resulted in demolition of most of LaVilla and the removal of its residents, these three houses were acquired by the City and relocated to the present site. At the time, the City’s intent was to rehabilitate them for educational purposes as an example of a popular but vanishing housing type found in many urban Black neighborhoods during the late 19th and early 20th century. The current restoration is expected to be complete in spring 2023.
The shotgun houses represent the Folk Victorian style of architecture, which was popular between 1870 and 1910. This style is defined by the application of Victorian decorative detailing on simple frame structures in an attempt to mimic the popular high Victorian architecture of the era. Many scholars believe shotgun houses reflect African building traditions that entered the American Southeast via the transatlantic slave trade through the Caribbean Islands, starting in New Orleans and brought to cities like Jacksonville by migrating Black freedmen.
The neighborhood of LaVilla was designated as a Florida Trust 11 to Save site in 2022.
#2 The Scrub, Tampa
Known as The Scrub, Central Park’s Central Avenue was considered to be Tampa’s version of the Harlem of the South. Courtesy of Tampa Bay History Center.
Tampa’s first African-American neighborhood, The Scrub was settled shortly after the Civil War by freemen and emancipated from the area. Significant growth came with the extension of Henry Plant’s railroad in 1883 and the introduction of the cigar industry two years later. From the 1890s through the first half of the 20th century, Central Avenue just north of Downtown Tampa, was the center of black life in the city and the Bay Area’s Harlem of the South.
Notable residents included Ray Charles, who recorded his first song, Found My Baby There, after living in the city briefly following his moves from Orlando, Jacksonville and St. Augustine during the late 1940s. It also served as the location for the movie, Black Like Me, starring James Whitmore in 1964.
Largely lost to the construction of Interstate 4 during the 1950s, the neighborhood's history is captured in a recent renovation of Perry Harvey Sr. Park.
Redesigned and renovated in 2016, the $6.3 million park’s amenities include a heritage trail, clay tile murals and art installations that change as one walks past them. Other amenities include public restrooms, an interactive fountain, basketball courts and a skate park.
You can find additional pictures of the Scrub in this article by the Jaxson Magazine.
#3 Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church
Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church, one of the 2022 Florida's 11 to Save.
Located in Gainesville’s historic Pleasant Street Neighborhood, Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church is listed in the National Register for its importance in the vernacular tradition of African American churches, as well as its association with the Civil Rights Movement. During the mid century, the church served as a religious and social hub for the African American community and a strategic center where local, state and national organizations planned legal and other nonviolent actions for the Civil Rights Movement in Alachua County and North Central Florida. The building was the command post for the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, hosting discussions about the desegregation of the county school system and supporting local students involved in the 1971 Black Thursday sit-in to improve racial equity at the University of Florida. Also a Florida Trust 11 to Save site, Old Mount Carmel was recently awarded a $200,000 grant from African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. One of 35 historic Black churches across the U.S. to receive part of the $4 million grant program, the funds will be used to guard against water damage by replacing the building's roof and protecting the building's envelope.
Opa-Locka City Hall
Opa-locka City Hall. Photo by Ennis Davis.
After receiving an African-American Cultural and Historical grant in 2022, the City of Opa-locka is moving forward with plans to restore the historic Old City Hall Building and Fire Station. With a goal to complete the project by the end of the year, plans call for the building to be used as a museum and event space. A centerpiece of the town, which was developed in 1926, the Opa-locka City Hall building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and added to the Florida Trust's 11 to Save program in 2021.